Ever since Brent Larkin — reporter, columnist, director of editorial pages — walked into the now defunct Cleveland Press 50 years ago, he has had the same job to do. It isn’t the kind found in a typical job description, and he didn’t fully realize his impact back in 1970.
Larkin’s journalistic mission is to spark heated verbal arguments in neighborhood bars and inspire passionate discussions in coffee shops. Politicians have been known to read his columns even before they turn to the sports pages. At the very least, he wants readers to think about issues.
Larkin is an agitator who says he doesn’t poke just for the reaction, a crusader who doesn’t want to carry a torch himself and a watchdog who loves Cleveland. He says he’s never going to move. He is both revered and hated in Cleveland, but swears he never reads anyone’s comments about what he writes. (But, his wife does.)
At first, the young journalist was given the police beat at The Press, but within a short time, he was covering City Hall. Larkin jumped to The Plain Dealer in 1981 as a politics writer.
When a job for a sports editor at The PD opened, Larkin figured he had a good shot at fulfilling his long-held wish to be a sports writer. (He especially likes baseball.) Instead, then-publisher Alex Machaskee eventually shook the hand of the paper’s new editorial page director in 1991.
“It was probably a good thing,” says Larkin, who has lived in Sagamore Hills for more than three decades. “I became hooked on politics.”
Larkin retired in 2009, “although not really,” he says. He is now a columnist for cleveland.com, still irritating the heck out of some people and being praised by others as he tackles a variety of subjects, including plastic bag bans, major corporations toying with moving out of Cleveland and property tax rollbacks in wealthy suburbs.
But, we have Larkin to thank for documenting Cleveland’s turbulent 1970s. The long-reaching effects of those years hovered over the city into the 1980s and 1990s and even today in some ways.
“Cleveland never had a decade like the 1970s,” says Larkin, a graduate of Charles F. Brush High School in Lyndhurst and also Ohio University. “And, I was in the center of it all as a journalist. History will remember the 70s as the city’s worst decade. In the Dennis Kucinich years (mayor: 1977- 79), the city was in a nervous breakdown. It wore itself out. During that time, a lot of mob bosses were blowing up each other, court-ordered desegregation created an enormous amount of black and white fight, and the population of the city declined. We had an election recall. It was my fate to cover it all.”
Larkin’s ability to get close to politicians and others in power also has earned him critics and fans. No doubt those relationships give him the ability to see beyond someone’s office. He notes, “Dennis wasn’t all wrong,” and that the mayor’s “failures were more a matter of style than substance.” Larkin describes Kucinich as “tenacious, smart, honest and just a little crazy.”
Larkin describes Louis Stokes (U.S. House of Representatives: 1963-1999) as “a real gentleman,” George Forbes (City Council: 1972-1989) as someone “who knew how to use and sometimes abuse power” more than anyone he has ever known, and Carl Stokes (mayor: 1967-1971) as “most charismatic.” Larkin believes George Voinovich (mayor: 1980-1989 and Ohio governor: 1991-1998) was “a decent man who loved his family and who you didn’t always have to agree with to respect.”
Fast forward to 2020, and Larkin claims he never has been “particularly partisan,” voting for both Republicans and Democrats throughout the years.
“But, Donald Trump has changed me. He turned me into an angry old man,” says Larkin.
Besides pounding away on his keyboard, Larkin enjoys spending time with his three grandkids. He’s an avid reader and “works out a lot to stay alive.”